A Visit with Matisse

I’ve written about Henri Matisse before. I have a bizarre fascination with his work. In some ways, I don’t like his paintings. They’re too loud, too bold, to bright for my sensitive artistic palate. They tend to leave a bad aftertaste in my mouth. Why I’m coming up with food analogies is beyond me. As I write, I tend to just blurt out whatever is in my head.

While I don’t care a lot for Matisse’s colorful fauvist style, I enjoy reading about him, thinking of the many different things he’s had to say about art and life. It was Matisse, you might recall, who bolstered our resolve by reminding us that “creativity takes courage.” It was also Matisse who suggested that “Would it not be best to leave room to mystery?”

I visited with Matisse — quite imaginatively, you understand, since he died in 1954  — this morning while playing with my design principles. My study today was all about unity, about harmony, about creating compositions where different elements work together. I was delighted when I came across a work of his that exemplifies the principle of unity.

Polynesia, The Sea — Paper Cut-Outs on Gouache

This work was created in 1946. A bit like what I’ve been doing with my shapes cut from paper, Matisse used various shapes and set them against a background done with gouache.

Unity is created by the continuous blue grid that acts as a background to the other shapes. The sense of unity is added to by the seaweed shapes that join together forming a continuous border round the outside of the composition. — Bitesize

I suppose I like this artwork more than some of his others because I like the colors he used. Of course what I really liked was the idea that my own simple design studies shared something in common with this famous artist. My shapes aren’t elaborate. I’m using simple squares and triangles, a few organic shapes. Nothing so carefully designed and cut as the fishes and birds and all the seaweed in Matisse’s lovely and playful piece.

All the same, it was fun to imagine myself working beside Henri — and listening to him talk as I placed my simple shapes here and there on a sheet of paper. I came up with a very simple illustration of harmony. I created mine simply through use of pattern. Each piece I selected has the same pattern as every other piece.

I feel it’s a bit off-balance with all that extra white space at the top, but Matisse shrugged and said “Maybe that can be the mystery. What’s up there that we can’t see?”

Matisse said actually something else that was truly useful for my playtime today.

The entire arrangement of my pictures is expressive; the place occupied by the figures, the empty spaces around them, the proportions, everything has its share. – Henri Matisse

This is what unity is all about. It works with bits and pieces, yet it puts them together in such a way that the entire arrangement is expressive. Everything works together. Everything has a place and a purpose.

I adore Matisse for his imagination. Even if I don’t care for his bold use of color, I have to admire him for creating his art in his way. And I love him for his playful spirit. This is a man who — much like me blurting out whatever is on my mind — spoke his own truth.

And so I leave you with my favorite Matisse quote:

“I wouldn’t mind turning into a vermillion goldfish.”




    1. 🙂 That’s one advantage of having a very active imagination. I can “visit” with so many artists and “connect” with them in meaningful ways. I guess it’s my own version of time-travel. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.


    1. I know a lot of people who love his work. It is provocative, definitely. I’m not so much in love with what he created as I am with him as an artist. I love his free spirit, his devotion to art, his willingness to be courageous. That’s what inspires me.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. My high school art teacher told me when Matisse was on his death bed he cut shapes out of colored paper and taped them to the ceiling with a long stick. That’s why I love him. What a great spirit he had. And he was a nice guy too. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I like some of Matisse’s work and then I don’t care for other ones. Some work and some do not for me. I love the cut outs and the solid shape paintings but sometimes it is too messy for me. I love the goldfish for sure!!! I am enjoying your writing about art. It is very open and not what I usually read. It comes from an honest place and it makes me want to slow down and examine the art I see everyday in a more meaningful way. I might start blogging more as I have been in a businessy rut. I think I might start writing more regularly on all the art I was taken in with throughout my life…while alternating it with work I am doing and things I am trying out.
    Thanks and I look forward to more of your writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Yes, I’m an “on” and “off” fan of Matisse, too. I can definitely appreciate his point of view and his courage regarding art. I do write from a very real place in my heart, and I’m glad that comes through in my posts. Art is still fairly new for me — I started learning to draw about 5-1/2 years ago, so I’m still exploring lots of styles and media. I’m finding myself most comfortable with landscapes in oil, but there is so much to learn and do! I want to do it all, but that’s just not possible, of course. I am looking forward to visiting your blog and reading about your art and your experiences.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I enjoy “meeting” different artists from the past, almost like a form of meditation. Getting to know them, inviting them into my studio, listening to what they might tell me if they were really here. Maybe that sounds crazy, or silly, but it helps me to feel connected to art in a very meaningful way.


I'd Love to Hear Your Thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s